Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Day in Stone Town Before Leaving

Today was the last day of our trip.

We got up (we both slept great) and had breakfast, checked out and waited for Mr. Hamad, our taxi driver, to arrive. He arrived right on schedule, and we explained what we'd like to do today. He arranged a tour guide for us for Stone Town, and also arranged to have our bags stored at the Zanzibar Hotel for the day, while we toured Stone Town.

About an hour drive back to Stone Town, and dropped our bags off at the Zanzibar Hotel, and met our guide. He was like an encyclopedia of Stone Town history. First was the slave memorial and museum, which was very interesting and a sad history of Africa. Most of the slaves in East Africa went to India, Europe and Arab countries (US got their slaves from West Africa).

We then walked around Stone Town, and saw numerous other sites, including the large market (veggies, fruits, chickens, meat and everything else under the sun), the house where Freddie Mercury was born and grew up, the two non-Muslim churches and lots of other historical buildings and museums, and the waterfront, which was very nice. It was a great tour that lasted about 3 hours.

After the tour, he took us back to the Zanzibar Hotel, then Tracy and me went wandering down the twisty streets in search of something to eat. We ate at a nice little cafe, then wandered down to the waterfront. Lots and lots of tourists around here, getting tours, wandering around, buying "stuff". Lots of souvenir shops all over Stone Town as well, of course.

We managed to get back to the Zanzibar Hotel without getting lost, and headed to the airport around 7:00 and got our flight to Dar es Salaam (a 15 minute flight).

Our KLM flight from Dar es Salaam wasn't scheduled to leave until 11:55pm, so we had a long wait at a crappy airport. Soon after we arrived at the Dar es Salaam airport, we discovered that our KLM flight was delayed by 2 hours and 45 minutes. Ugh. KLM didn't even have the check-in counters open yet, so we had to wait around in the check-in hall for hours before KLM finally started doing check-ins. Then, as the flight was considered a "new" flight, the staff had great difficulty in getting boarding passes created for everything. It was a long and tedious affair, but we finally got through and our flight left at about 2:45am, I think. Fortunately our connecting flight in Amsterdam (to Calgary), we had a 5+ hour layover, so there was no danger of us missing our connection.

And, that's the end of the African adventure.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Moving to the Hilton

We got up and had breakfast and asked if we could stay another night. After checking reservations, unfortunately they were booked up, so we had to find other accomodation. The Kajibange is the last place on the north western stretch of beach. Beside it is Gerry's Bar (me and Tracy tried to go there last evening, but nobody was around to serve us. Just three guys sleeping the chairs.), and beside that is the Hilton, called the DoubleTree by Hilton. We went there, and it was $280 US (Kajibange was $60), but Tracy said "Screw you Todd, I like it, we're staying." and pulled out her credit card. Haha.

We had left our bags at Kajibange, so after getting checked in (including a drink and the "famous" DoubleTree Chocolate Chip Cookie), we walked back and collected our bags.

Sat around the Hilton for a bit, then walked down the beach to the turtle sanctuary near the lighthouse. They take in injured or lost baby turtles, raise them, then when they are two years old, they release them. They have an annual turtle release date of Feb. 20, which would be cool to see. When we were walking down there, and at the sanctuary, both of us were sweating bullets, and we didn't know why. Why stopped at a covered rest area at the sanctuary, where a little kitten curled up on Tracy's lap and fell asleep.

We walked back to the Hilton and went to the pool with a swim-up bar.

I also called our taxi driver who had taken us from the airport to Kajibange a couple of days ago, Mr. Hamad (+255-777-418944) if you need a great taxi driver. :-) We arranged for him to pick us up at the Hilton tomorrow at 11:00am and also told him our plan to tour Stone Town tomorrow, and hoping he could help us store our bags somewhere and then take us to the airport later in the afternoon.

We had booked a sunset tour yesterday, so at 4:00 we went back to Kajibange to wait for our pickup. Once collected, we walked down the western side of the beach to where the sunset tour boats are and missed it. The "captain" said that's ok, we'll get on another boat. They have lots of boats available, and they go out when they have enough people on it, so we had 10 people on our boat. The first boat that went out was packed, about 20-25 people crammed on it, so we were lucky.

Sunset tour finished about 6:30, we want to the Fisherman's Grill restaurant at the Hilton for supper, then went back to Gerry's Bar, which was happening tonight. To bed around 10:00.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

A Day in Zanzibar

We slept in a bit and had breakfast shortly after 8:00. Then walked along the white sand beach, along an endless line of restaurants, guest houses, high-end hotels, souvenir shops, dive shops and tour companies. Fortunately, it's not like Cancun with massive hotels stretched along the beach for miles, this is much more toned down and much smaller. Of course you get your locals all trying to sell you things, like sunglasses, bracelets, boat tours. There are even quite a number of Masai here, trying to get you to come to their little souvenir shop. We bought a few things, I got an awesome hat made of coconut skin, it's so light and cool.

Back to the guest house to relax. We decided we're going to spend another night here, but Kajibange can't let us know if they have something available for tomorrow night yet, so we'll see tomorrow morning.

Not too much to report today.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Off to Zanzibar

We had a 9:00am flight, destination Zanzibar. We got up around 5:30 and got packed, and to the airport around 7:00am.

We flew Kenya Airways from Entebbe to Nairobi, then a 1-hour layover in Nairobi, then to Dar es Salaam, where we had to go through immigration. Fortunately, we got our visa when we first arrived at Kilimanjaro at the start of the trip, so we bypassed the visa payment line and went through immigration without hassles. We collected our baggage from the international arrivals area, then carried them to the domestic departures and got checked in. We had a 3.5 layover here, and the terminal in Dar es Salaam pretty much sucks ass. As our departure time was getting closer, there was hardly anyone in the departure area, and we were getting concerned we weren't in the right spot. I did ask a worker and she said we were ok. There was also one other tourist couple (and a handful of locals), and it ends up they were on the same flight, so at least we were in it together.

The flight was on a smaller propeller plane and was probably only 1/3 full, but the flight was only 20 minutes. No sooner had we taken off, then we were already preparing for landing.

We bypassed all the immigration/customs at the airport and collected our baggage and exited the airport, hoping to see someone holding a piece of paper with our names on it, as we had asked the guest house to pick us up. No luck, nobody there, but that was ok. There were lots of transport/taxi people around. One of them started talking to us, as it was clear we didn't have a ride, so after waiting for 15 minutes, we hired him to take us to Kajibange Bar & Guest House for the same price that the guest house pickup was going to be ($50 USD). He first took us to a bank machine in town, then headed out. The taxi guy stopped along the highway and picked up some BBQ corn on the cob for his supper. It was about 1.5 hour drive to Nungwi, on the north side of the island. As we were driving through town, it looked like a war zone, and I imagined that's how Aleppo would look like, dilapidated and ruined buildings, destitute people and dogs wandering around. Around 6:30pm, we came around the back way, to the car entrance to Kajibange, and Tracy eyes were wide, like "What are we doing here? This place is a disaster." She had a WTF look on her face. She thought we were in Mad Max or something. After entering through the gate, however, we were greeted with a wonderful beachfront guest house, reggae music playing on the speaker. This place is run by a Rastafarian guy (where 99% of the island is Muslim), and it's totally laid back. We got checked in to an awesome bungalow room, except the bed is about 4 feet off the ground, and you have to jump up to get into the bed. We went to the restaurant/bar area. Imagine an open, covered air bar/restaurant, all wood, lots of little tables, chairs, hammocks, lounging beds, and cold, cold beer in a deep freezer. It was kind of heaven. The rest of the property is all sand pathways and very well kept and clean.

After eating (I had grilled king fish, Tracy had jumbo (or maybe tiger) prawn salad. After eating and relaxing, we literally jumped into bed.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

A Day in Entebbe

We slept in a bit....well, we were up for breakfast shortly after 7:00.

We called Bike2Go Entebbe and arranged a city bike tour for 10:30. It was mediocre, we went pretty much around the whole city in a circle. The highlight would have been the Tuesday market, which goes on in a few streets where people sell everything, mostly clothes and shoes it seems. We then walked through the food market, people selling all kinds of veggies, fruits and meat. It was pretty cool.

We got back around 1:00pm, then had lunch.

Around 3:30, we headed to the botanical garden and walked around it for a while. Nothing too special, but it was nice time killer and a nice to place to get out of the sun.

We had supper, then to bed around 9:00.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Off to Entebbe

We were up early, we had a long drive to Entebbe, the small city where the international airport is. We had to drive most of the way back to Kampala, then turn south to Entebbe. Along the way, we both had to pee horribly, so Kazeem stopped in small town at a gas station. The toilet was nothing more than a concrete pad with a hole in the middle and Tracy was disgusted. She almost hurled from the smell, and she was swearing and hated it. It was kind of funny.

We also stopped at the equator line, where we ate lunch and then were given a demonstration of how water swirls down differently (clockwise vs. counter clockwise) on either side of the equator, while right on the equator, it doesn't swirl either way, it just goes straight down. I have read that this is a myth, and really only affects large scale storms (hurricans, typhoons, etc. swirl different in the northern vs. southern hemisphere), but his demonstration was fairly convincing. At first I thought he'd pour the water in the drain so that it swirls the way he wants, but he put a blocker in the bowl to stop any swirling caused by the pour. Hmmmm. He used a flower to visually show us which way the flower swirls when put in the bowl. After showing us north of the equator and south of the equator, he showed us right on the equator, and the first time he did it, it swirled clockwise, and he remarked that it swirled, so the bowl must be a teeny but south or north, and adjusted the bowl about half in inch and then did it again, and then the water went straight down and didn't swirl. Hmmm. The bowls were not well made, and looked like they were made by someone hammering on tin (not by a machine, to ensure a perfect bowl shape), so I think that had something to do with why they swirled the way they did, but it was still interesting.

We made it to Entebbe and Kazeem had booked us in the Anderita hotel, right along the shoreline of Lake Victoria, with a bunch of other large hotels and a bunch of beachfront bars and restaurants. It was very nice. The hotel was $60/night, but Tracy was soooo happy. She's officially done with camping for a long time, she says. Haha. We thanked Kazeem and he left.

We showered up (so much dirt and grime in the hair and all over), then we walked along the shoreline road checking out the places to eat as it got dark. We chose one where they had a bunch of tables in the sand, and had pizza. As it got darker, bugs came out. A very specific bug, by the millions, came out of the sand and congregated all over everything, getting on the pizza, into the drinks, into hair, hitting you as they tried to fly towards a light. It was crazy. People started eating/drinking quickly, paying their bills and getting out of there, which we did as well.

We ended up going to bed around 9:00, I think.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Game Driving and a Boat

We got up very early, 5:30, as Kazeem wanted to do an early morning game drive.

We heard a party/music all night from the town close by, and I heard hippos all night long. The sleeping mats are crap and neither of us really slept very good. Well, only one more night, then no more camping.

Nothing very exciting during the game drive. I think we totally got spoiled from the Serengeti. One lion, quite a number of Ugandan Kobs (antelope), warthogs and other antelope. Not nearly the numbers in Serengeti.

Then we headed back to the camp for lunch, then at 12:30 left for our boat cruise along the channel that runs between George Lake and Edward Lake. We first stopped at a super high-end resort, Mewai. Swimming pool, overlooking the lake, super nice cabins, full restaurant/bar, super nice premises. We were allowed to walk around for a while. We got the price list. The starting price for the basic accomodation, including breakfast, was $205 USD/night. The Queen room was over $1000 USD/night. And that price doesn't include any activities. Mom, would definitely enjoy it.

At 2:00 we went to the jetty and boarded a nice double-decker boat for a boat cruise. The cruise went along the shoreline and there were tons of animals along the shoreline, drinking and cooling off in the water. Buffalo, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, warthogs, baboons and tons of various birds. The crocodiles live right along with the other animals, which surprised me a bit. But I guess the crocs live on a diet of fish and don't try to take down any animals, so they live alongside each other. We saw a couple of hippo fights as well, which are apparently common. We also floated along by a village, where the villagers live alongside the channel, with the local fauna. The villagers can fish the lakes, but can't fish in the channel, as it's a national park. There was also a small fish market.

After the cruise, we did an evening game drive, and we went back to the same lion we saw yesterday. He was lounging in the sun, then moved along and climbed up in a tree. So, we got to see a tree climbing in the end, one of the last hurrahs of game driving. We were spoiled by the Serengeti, the game driving here wasn't all that grand. In retrospect, instead of doing a day of game drive, we should have went to the chimp trekking here (in addition to the gorillas). Oh well, we didn't know.

We got back to camp quite late, it was already dark. We had supper, then around 9:30 Tracy and I headed to the tent. We got to the tent and there was an awful manure like stench by our tent. We wondered what had taken a dump in the vicinity. We walked over the toilet and there was an awful reek. We kinda heard strange noises coming from other side of the hedge, so Tracy went into the bathroom, and I shined my light over the hedge to try and see. I saw this large gray mass. Is that an elephant? I wasn't sure and didn't believe it, so I looked again, and saw it again, then it turned towards me and I saw the massive tusks and it's eyes reflecting back at me. YIKES! I'm like less than 10 feet from an massive elephant, with only a bush in between us. The elephant was feeding on trees behind one of the cabins, right beside the washroom building. We weren't sure if this was "normal" or not, so I went back to the dining area, fortunately our guide was still there (the staff don't really speak english), and I told them there was an elephant right near our tent. They look surprised and confused, like they didn't quite know what to do. They talked for a bit, then our guide said they would build a campfire. The guide and me headed back to the elephant, and a while later, some of the staff came with firewood, and they started a campfire by our tent. Animals are afraid of fire and will stay away instinctively (so we're told). As they were building the fire, one of the other staff decided to go around the building to check on the elephant. He disappeared around the hedge, then we heard a blood curdling scream and running, and a door slam shut. Hahaha. Our guide started laughing. The elephants had startled this poor guy and he screamed and ran away.

Once the fire was going, they took a hot piece of wood from the fire and a few of the staff went to try and scare the elephant away. Our guide said he thought those guys were crazy. They did successfully get the elephant to leave, but a while later we heard an elephant trumpet a bit in the distance and someone blowing a whistle. The poor elephant was now in another camp and they were trying to scare it away.

With that excitement done, we headed to bed.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Queen Elizabeth National Park

We left the gorilla trekking campground and we were able to watch the amazing landscapes, mountains and valleys as we headed north towards Queen Elizabeth National Park. Amazingly beautiful.

We descended into more plain like landscapes and arrived to a town just outside of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Kazeem had arranged to pick up a tent from a fellow in a town close the Queen Elizabeth National Park. We waited for about 10 minutes, then got the tent and continued on into the park, doing a game drive as we headed towards the camp. Queen Elizabeth National Park is famous for tree climbing lions, and they are typically found in the southern part of the park, but we didn't see any on our drive up. We just saw two elephants.

When we got the campsite, Hippo Hill, it's a private run cabins area, and there was a lot of confusion. The people working here were confused because they thought we were going to be in a cabin, and weren't sure where the camping area was located on the premises (or that's what I gathered). Kazeem had to call and talk to the manager or someone to get things all sorted. Finally, the staff (who barely speak any english) took us to the camping area, that has its own bathroom/shower complex. One of the men got the lady to go clean the washrooms, while the men tried to setup the tent. Our guide has never set up a tent, so he was useless. The camp staff had an idea, but I had to step in take control, as I've set them up before. Well, the tent was in pretty bad shape. A huge hole in one side. No rods for the fly, and lots of other little holes all over. We couldn't properly secure the fly, so we covered the part of the tent that had the big hole with the fly and then I used duct tape to try and hold the fly in place and to cover all the holes. And there was only one sleeping mat included. There was also a lot of concern about hippos. They come out of the water at night, and we're fairly close to the lake (either Lake Edward or Lake George, I can't remember which). Our guide was concerned about us being in a tent with the hippos so close, but the staff said it was all good.

The washrooms were pretty hilarious as well. There were four toilet stalls and four shower stalls. I pooped in the first toilet stall only to discover that it didn't flush properly. So my poop just stayed there. The second had no toilet seat. The third seemed to work fine. The fourth was completely locked and you couldn't go in. I shudder to think what horrors may be in that one.

This Hippo Hill place is hilarious. They try to act all sophisticated, the waiters in tuxes, and they always greet you, three course meals, but they're failing miserably at it. I don't want someone doting on my all the time. The cabins themselves look quite nice, though. And the restaurant/bar eating area is very nice. The kitchen is a long walk from the eating area, so that's quite funny too, seeing them waiters come walking from probably 100 feet (or more) with a platter of food.

Kazeem also arranged to get us sleeping mats for the evening.

There was nothing more planned for the rest of the day, so we just sat around the restaurant area for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Gorilla Trekking

We slept amazing last night on our tiny mattress. Breakfast was at 7:00, then shortly before 8:00 we headed just down the road to the start of the gorilla trekking. I've heard horror stories about doing this trekking with old people who can't handle the intense hiking up and down the valleys to get the gorillas, causing the group to slow, so I was praying there would be no old people in our group. As we pulled in, there were two old people. We greeted them and discovered they were from Austria. Austria is full of mountains, so I figured they'd probably be ok going up and down.

We met our guide, Shaba. He's been doing this for 25 years, and he's now 60 years old. Most people retire at 60 in Uganda, but his contract says he can stay until he's 63, so he's going to keep doing it, hoping one of his kids can take over for him when he retires. I also must say, you can really, really tell that Shaba truly believes in the cause and he loves his job. He still gets excited when he sees the gorillas.

The briefing included things like keeping your distance. We're not allowed to get closer than 7 metres (23 feet), although a gorilla can come closer to you if he/she wants to. We also had two armed guards in case anything happened. Apparently the wood elephants (also called mountain elephants) in this area had been persecuted for years before it was a park, so they have a bad memory of humans and can still be quite dangerous here. We are also not allowed any more than one hour with the gorillas, then we have to leave. The Austrian woman was being pressured to get a porter to carry her stuff and help her along, but she was resisting, then finally relented and got one (only $15 USD).

Earlier in the morning, they sent out trackers to track the gorillas, so we could hopefully know where we need to be going. It's not uncommon for these treks to last for 4-6 hours before finding the gorillas. Indeed, someone staying at our campsite did it two days ago and they were out there for 6 hours. Part of that was because his 72 year old mother was with him, and she really struggled.

We started along a dirt road for about 15 minutes, then our ranger (Shaba) got a message on his walkie talkie and we started to hack and slash our way through the jungle, down into the steep valley. Then our guide told us to sit, as the gorillas were coming our direction. I looked up behind me and I saw one climbing up a tree. I started to take pictures and the guide is telling me to stop, and to listen to him. Haha. I listened, and as we sat there, other gorillas started to appear, as they fed. They are virtually all vegetable diet, except for sometimes ants and termites. So they need to eat LOTS of veggies. We started following them through the thick jungle, as they fed, getting much closer than the 7 metres. We were often within 2-3 metres of them. As they moved on, our guides would hack a path through the jungle for us to follow and watch. It was truly amazing. One gorilla came up through the bushes and literally walked right beside the Austrian man as he went in search of his favorite food. They (the gorillas, not the Austrians) have the most amazing farts too.

There are a few gorilla family groups that have become completely habituated to humans, so there's very little issues with us being there, as long as we don't overstay our welcome. I got some good pictures, but it's hard in the thick jungle.

After about 50 minutes, we went in search of the silverback, the largest male and leader of this specific family group. He was close by, so we sat and observed him from close range for a few minutes, then it was time to go.

We got extremely lucky. The gorillas were close and we were experiencing them within an hour. The Austrian lady was very happy she got a porter. The valleys were very steep and footing was difficult at the best of times. But her porter helped her along the whole time. She agreed it was money well spent. And we were done before noon.

This was truly amazing. There are less than 1000 gorillas left in the world, but the population is growing in Rwanda and Uganda, thanks to conservation efforts, which does include tourism. Our guide begged us to tell our friends and relatives and get them to come and have the same experience.

We had lunch at the main gorilla meeting point (where we started), then headed back to the campground. We decided to do a nature walk this afternoon, so at 2:00pm, our guide came and took us on a very nice walk through the village and surrounding area, including a waterfall. We also saw a number of colobus (sp?) monkeys on the way back.

We didn't do to much for the rest of the day, just relaxed, had supper and went to bed.

Thursday, December 01, 2016


We didn't sleep much, but dozed off and on in short bits.

The Kenya/Uganda border crossing was quite a bit easier. We didn't have to take our bags off and go through security or anything. I exchanged $20US to Ugandan shilling (40,000) and got a crap deal. I should have had checked the exchange before talking to the money exchangers that walk around. I should have got between 60,000-70,0000 I think. Oh well. Then Tracy had to go to the bathroom, so I gave her 10,000 shilling in case it was "pay as you poop" deal again. She ended up paying 10,000 shilling ($3.75 CAD) to take a poop.

We passed by the Nile river on the way. It's HUGE even way up here, much closer to the source.

As we got close to Kampala, they turned on the video system again and started playing gospel, God is amazing music videos. I laughed because it was a sharp contrast to the music videos they had playing when we got on the bus.

We arrived in Kampala around 12:30pm. The bus was scheduled to arrive at 10:00am, and there was a guy waiting with our names on a piece of paper. He'd been waiting for 2.5 hours for our bus. Kaseem was his name and he's to be our guide for our time in Uganda.

We then headed off to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where the gorilla trekking will be. We stopped at a "Cafe Java", a quick sit down restaurant for a lunch, as we hadn't eaten almost 24 hours.

Uganda is beautiful. So green and lush, mountains and rolling hills. Our guide says it's green and lush all year round. It was fun to pass through all the town along the way.

We didn't arrive to Bwindi until 10:00pm (9 hour drive from Kampala), so we couldn't really see much of the mountains or scenery for the last part of the trip. They were doing some road work, so there was a bulldozer, a grader and one of those pavement roller things parked by the side of the road. It was dark, but by the headlights of our vehicle, as we passed we saw a human figure sitting upright in the seat of the bulldozer, wrapped in warm clothes. Freaky! After we turned into the park gates, our guide remarked that he didn't see that we had a tent. I said, "Uhhh, we have no tent, we have only sleeping bags. We were not told to bring anything else and that everything was supposed to be included." Anyway, once we got to the camping area, which is in a small village, and run by some locals, our guide called someone and found out that there was a tent already at the camp for us. So the camp people set out setting it up and everything and it's all good. In Uganda, locals are allowed to live in the national parks, so the villages cater to the tourists with campgrounds and cabin options and restaurants and everything. The one we are staying at Ruhija Gorilla Friends Resort Campsite, and the people running it are lovely. They offered us supper, but it was so late, and we were so tired, we passed. Once they got the tent setup (a small tent with a small mattress for Tracy and me....our bums touched each other all night, the mattress was so small), we crashed hard.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Leaving Tanzania

After breakfast, we weren't in a hurry, so just slowly packed and then headed back to Arusha. Ernest arranged a day room for us at a hotel before our bus to Kampala, Uganda, which is scheduled to leave at 4:00pm.

The hotel was in the downtown area, and it was bustling with activity, so we walked around the area. The locals were very friendly saying hello to us whitey's. We had a lunch at the hotel, then got a pickup from Ernest and Danford to take us to the bus.

The bus was over 2 hours late, and we didn't leave until after 6:00pm. In order to make up time, the bus driver was going at incredible speeds on the highway, reaching 140kph (most people drive around 70-80kpm). We arrived at the Kenya/Tanzania border in the evening. I had pre-purchased our transit visas before going, but I had made a mistake on mine, and put the date of entry and date of exit as Nov 30. But we weren't going to he leaving Kenya until tomorrow, Dec. 1. I told the immigration dude I made a mistake, and he's like "Oh, your visa is already expired! You have to pay $20 US dollars", with a big grin on his face. He was just joking around and it wasn't a problem. We had to haul all of our gear off the bus and take it through security, which was nothing more than someone going through your bag. It was a big pain in the ass, and I don't usually remember having to do this at border crossings on buses. Tracy had to the go to the bathroom, and she got there, and found out that you had to pay. Fortunately there was another local woman there that was on our bus, and she paid for Tracy to go to the bathroom.

At Nairobi, we changed buses. The bus company held that bus back so we wouldn't miss it. I think there were also other people on the first bus that also needed to be on the second bus. The bus from Nairobi to Kampala only left about 30 minutes late.

When we got on the bus, they were playing local rap videos with women shaking their booty in front of the camera, wearing not much.

We tried to get as much sleep as we could on the nighttime bus.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tangarire National Park

It sucked trying to sleep to the noises of the city again. Motorcycles, people coughing and talking, people in the room above us doing it, Muslim mosque doing it's call to prayer and a horrible hour. Yuck. Give me the animal sounds of Africa back.

Breakfast at the hotel and then we headed out for Tangarire National Park, known for it's large elephant populations, more than any other in Tanzania.

Along the way we stopped in a small village and visited the market so the cook could pick up some fresh food. We got to follow him around.

On the way we stopped at a view point for a view of Lake Manaru (Manyara?)(or something?) National Park.

We arrived at Tangarire and headed for the campsite, got setup and had lunch. There is one other older couple from England staying here as well.

Tangarire is much hotter than Serengeti. Wow.

We saw lots and lots of elephants from a close distance. They dig into the dry river beds to get at water and throw dirt on themselves to help protect from the sun and insects.

The park is also known for the giant baobab trees. During the dry season, they look like they're planted upside down.

Back the campsite and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and talk with the British couple. They've done safaris all across Africa, and they feel the campsites in Tanzania are some of the most neglected, not nearly up to the standards as the ones in southern Africa.

During the night there were lots of amazing animal noises again, including an animal that had a god awful, low growls very close to the campground. Very vicious and aggressive. Tracy burst awake shitting herself. She thought it was a large baboon being aggressive at the humans in the campground, and was errified to go outside. Later, after the sun came up, we found out that it was nothing more than an impala.

I have to say, I love sleeping with all the animal noises. Loud and quiet, I'm going to miss it and it seem to be very relaxing to me.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ngorongoro Crater - Todd pisses off more wildlife.

We woke up with the sunrise as usual. Lots of awesome animal noises all night, and the stars are amazing.

We packed up camp and left around 7:00 for Ngorongoro Crater. We stopped at a Maasai village, where they did the tourist thing, doing the Maasai dance for us, then showing us the school (a small shack with a blackboard), then a house (tiny mud-built house with cooking fire and two beds). Then we got the opportunity to buy handmade crafts. I bartered down from 75,000 shilling to 40,000 shilling. I'm pretty proud of myself, as I'm not particularly good at bartering.

Then we headed to Ngorongoro Crater, which was fine. The views of the crater were spectacular, but we've seen so many safari animals (including the rhino), that there wasn't really anything new to see here. When we were in the crater, the guide turned on the CB radio and was listening to all the other tourist guides all talking about trying to find one of the rhinos in the crater. There are 20 in all, and there are none in central Serengeti, so this is the only chance many tourists will get to see a rhino. Our guide laughed at them, because we got our rhino (the black rhino at that!) in the northern Serengeti. (In the end, they couldn't find any of the rhinos today.)

We stopped at a picnic area for lunch. I was eating a pizza pop-type thing (but much better than a pizza pop), and had about one bite left, and was holding it my left hand at the side of my head, as I was chewing the previous bite. Suddenly I'm enveloped in shadow, I feel something touch my left hand, and I heard a woosh. I was completely startled and probably screamed a bit. I totally freaked me out. I then looked at my left hand and my food was gone. WTF? Not understanding what just happened, I looked up and saw a large bird of prey fly off with my food! I was freaked and we all then climbed in the truck and finished eating. Danford (our guide) said it was a Black Kite, a large bird, a fair bit larger than a hawk. I'm shocked it didn't cut my finger open, they have large, sharp claws.

We then left for Karatu, and the Panorama Inn for the night. It's a very nice place in a totally non-touristy part of town. I asked Danford if it was safe to walk around here, and he said yes, totally safe, no worries at all. After showering for the first time in almost a week, we went for a walk around. Dirt streets, tons of local shops all over (hair dressers, welders, little convenience stores, auto-body shops, clothing, etc.), not touristy at all. We weren't bothered at all, except for one Maasai guy came and started chatting us up in English, he ended up wanting to sell some handmade stuff his grandmother and him makes, so he can pay for schooling. We got a couple of nice necklaces for 10,000 shilling.

As we were walking around, three young boys (maybe 5 or 6), came walking along, and one of the came over and rubbed his hand along my arm. I've noticed the locals (and the Maasai) are fascinated with the hair all over my body.

We then went to a restaurant across the street (Karatu Corner Bar) and ordered a couple of beers. The lady working there spoke no english, but we managed to convey what we wanted, and it was nice sitting outside watching the world go by.

We also got a load of laundry done.

Back to the hotel for supper.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Last Day in Serengeti

I had to pee four times last night. It made me mad.

Today was a pretty relaxed day. We have seen pretty much everything in the first two days (which is quite unusual), so today was just going to be a slow day.

After breakfast, around 10:00am we headed out on another game drive and got two more surprises. We headed out to less popular roads again, staying away from the crowds trying to see the lions and giraffes. So in addition to seeing more of the "typical" animals we've already seen, we got to witness a cerval cat up close. It's a small cat, a bit larger than a large house cat. He was hunting for mice and similar creatures along the side of the road. We also got to witness a jackal chasing a hyena. Jackals are quite small, less than half the size of a hyena, but the the jackal probably had a den with babies nearby, and was trying to keep the hyena away from her babies. It was pretty neat to see this tiny dog take on the large dog and win.

We also headed to the visitors centre, which is quite nice. When you arrive, you are taken on a tour by a guide of the visitors centre, and you're expected to tip the guide afterwards. I was a bit miffed that our guide didn't tell us that before we went there. Anyway, whatever.

We headed back to the camp for lunch.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

What Happened to Tracy

Something has happened to Tracy. Yesterday she was an animal lover, nature lover, all animals are cute, baboons being one of her favorites. Last night's baboon encounter has changed her. She's angry at them. She hates baboons. She has created a pile of rocks, if they come even remotely close to our camp, she throws rocks at them and hurtles swears and insults at them. She has changed.

We woke up this morning with the sunrise. Last night we went to sleep with all kinds of strange and amazing animal sounds. Hyenas, leopards, buffalo, elephant and more we didn't know what they were. I slept soundly, but Tracy kept waking up. It's great sleeping in a tent, hearing all of the night noises. When we woke up, four buffalo were no more than 50-60 metres from our camp, sleeping. A small group of hyenas were a short distance off in another direction (that would explain why we heard them to clearly last night). We were the only ones in the public campground, which Tracy didn't like.

We had our little table and chair setup  to overlook the grasslands, and tourist were driving by throughout the morning. At least two of them, when they saw our little campsite, with our little table and two chairs, Tracy and me standing there observing our domain, grabbed their camera and took pictures of us and our campsite. We were the tourist attraction! They were probably staying in some fancy lodge and were fascinated by people sleeping in tents amongst the wild animals. They were probably jealous.

It's incredible and amazing to wake and see a plethora of animals roaming in the vista from the campsite, including zebras, buffalo, giraffe,wildebeest, hyenas, various antelope and more.

The baboons came back this morning, watching us. Tracy was our protector, though, and kept them at bay with her rocks. After they left, black-faced monkeys arrived and watched the cook as he was making breakfast and watched us eat. They are quite a bit less scary than the baboons, and Tracy was less aggressive with them.Jumping on our truck, around the trees at our camp, on the cooking shelter. The cooking shelter has a wired windows and doors, with latches, so they hung around the door and in the windows peering in at us as we ate. It was quite awesome, actually.

Then a large female baboon came back, and it's obvious the baboon rules over the monkeys. The baboon would push his way around the monkeys, scaring them off if they were in her way or got too close.

Around 10:00am, we left for another campground, Pimbi campground I think. We're now in the central Serengeti region, which is quite a bit more popular, so was quite a bit busier with more tourist trucks around. On the way there, we got close to a family of elephants right near the side of the road, including one teeny, tiny elephant baby sticking right by mom's side.

Once again, we're astounded and we got some very good luck in seeing things.

Another lion family, no males around, but a bunch of females and about 10 kittens. After observing that for a while, we didn't go more than 5 minutes and we got a leopard in a tree. That means we've now got all big 5. Moved on, and not 1-2 minutes later, a cheetah in the field. He'd stop and stand and observe, then move on, then jump on a mound and sit and observe everything again, then move on. There were quite a few other tourist trucks around these parts, and we'd seen tons of stuff yesterday, so our guide decided to go off to some areas where there weren't any other tourists. What a treat! We got up and close and personal with a couple of giraffes. Then we hit another jackpot, a cheetah female with 5 cubs literally right by the side of the road. We were the only tourist truck there, so we got the treat of observing them. This is very rare for cheetahs to be so close to the side of the road. After we observed them for 10 minutes, our guide called on the CB radio to the other tourist trucks, and the rush was on. About this time it started to rain, so we closed the roof and the cheetahs decided to move on. By the time the other tourist trucks started to arrive, the cheetahs were in the field and hard to see. So, we got a treat by seeing them first.

We also saw a snake, African python I believe it was.

More ostriches, zebras, wildebeests, various antelopes, etc., etc., etc.

Back to the campground around 5:00ish, and we had another amazing day.

Friday, November 25, 2016

First Day in Serengeti - Todd pisses off wildlife

We woke up very early this morning to leave, as we had a long drive to get to the north gate of Serengeti National Park.

We entered the north gate (Klein's Gate) entrance to Serengeti National Park. There were some cool red and violet lizards at the entrance, scampering around. The toilets were squatters, Tracy's first experience with them.

Well, talk about animals. Everywhere. Zebras, wildebeest, giraffes, warthogs, all kinds of antelopes (mainly gazelles and impalas), ostriches, elands, etc. The landscape just covered with them. It kinda blew my mind. For some reason I thought all of the animals congregated in smaller areas. Saw many elephants from a distance as well.

We did a game drive up to the Mara River, famous for the wildebeest crossing during the migration. On the way up, we came across two male lions lazing in the heat of the day beside the side of the road and got some great pictures. We missed the crossing by a short bit, they've all crossed now, but we went to see the crocodiles in the river. Also saw lots of hippos in the river. They're huge.

As we were returning from the Mara River, our guide stopped suddenly, and grabbed the binoculars, then immediately turned the truck around and raced off. We were all wondering what he saw. As we approached, we found out. A black rhino, which are very rare. He said we were very lucky, as the rhino is the hardest one to find. There are none in the central Serengeti, so if you don't find one in northern Serengeti, you have to try your luck in Ngorongoro National Park. So, it's only been a few hours and already we've seen 4 of the big 5 in Africa! Amazing stuff.

On the way back, one of the two male lions was now sprawled out across the only road leading over a small stream. Two other safari trucks were sitting there taking pictures and waiting for it to move. We pulled up and got some amazing pictures, then noticed the rest of the pride was just a few feet away, lots of females and about 10 cubs! Fabulous pictures. They also had a fresh kill there. At one point, the male lion got up and walked up to our truck and our cook freaked out and rolled up his window. It was kind of funny.

We game drove to the Lobo campground. When we pulled up, it was empty, nobody else there, except a bunch of baboons. We pulled in and started to unpack. The baboons were blocking the path to the bathroom, and Tracy wanted to go. Our guide aid the baboons would run away when we approached, so we started to walk towards them. They didn't back away. They started to slowly approach us. We were both a bit unnerved, then Tracy freaked out and turned around and started to walk away. I then did the same thing. This is where I learned my very first lesson. NEVER turn your back on a wild animal! As soon as my back as turned, they came at me. They shrieked and screamed and one of them hit the back of my leg. Tracy yelled "Oh shit" and started running. I turned my head back around to look at them, and they stopped baring their teeth and shrieking. I actually thought one of them cut my leg open, but looking down, it was all good. I slowly backed away, and our guide said "What did you do?" We said nothing, we were just trying to back away and they attacked! He started laughing. It ended up that someone had left a slingshot in the kitchen area. Our guide grabbed it and started showing it to the baboons and they started to back away. He started to shoot rocks with the slingshot and throw rocks at them, and they scattered up the rock face behind the camp. It was pretty scary anyway.

We had a supper and then went to bed early. The sun sets around 6:30 and it gets dark quick, and then you get tired and to to bed.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Our Failed Trek

Up at 11:00pm and we drove to the base of the volcano. The skies were clear when we woke up.

The drive was about 30 minutes, then we started out with headlamps on.

As we ascended, we moved into a cloud layer. We were moving at a good pace. About 3/4 of the way up, it started raining and our guide said it would be raining lots at the top. So we decided to cut our losses and head down before we had to descend in pouring rai, which could be hazardous to our health. On the way down, we met two other guys going up. We got about 3/4 of the way back down and it started pouring. Fortunately we had our rain jackets with us.

We made it back to the start point around 4:30 or 5:00 (still pitch black), but our truck wasn't there. The drivers that brought the other two hikers were still there, so they let us sit in their truck (and even gave us food!) until either the other two hikers returned or our driver came back.

The other two hikers got back after it brightened up and they said it was pouring at the top. They got to the top and turned right around and came back down.

At the same time, our driver arrived. Most people take about 6 hours to go up and 6 hours to come back down, but our pace was so fast, we would have done the whole thing in 6-7 hours probably.

We didn't do much for the rest of the day. We just relaxed.

We had another activity scheduled for 5:00, a walk along the shore of Lake Natron to see the pink flamingos. Thousands and thousands of them, both Lesser Pink Flamingos and Greater Pink Flamingos. It was a pleasant walk and then we returned to the camp, had an amazing supper of bbq meat (pork chops, chicken and beef).

I have to say that the food is amazing, but there's soooo much of it, it's getting unbearable and we're getting fat again.

We went to bed early, super tired after hiking all night last night.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Waterfall Hike

This morning after breakfast, while waiting to go for a guided hike up a ravine to a waterfall, Tracy and me decided to go walk down the road. As soon as we left the camping area, we got swarmed by local Maasai girls selling stuff, mainly bracelets and necklaces they make. It was crazy, and while it shouldn't have been unexpected by me, for some reason I didn't think it would happen there. They were super friendly and nice, wanting to know our names and where we were from and all that, and kept telling us their names, hoping we'd buy from them. They were sneaky too, they put bracelets on Tracy without Tracy even realizing they had done it. In the end we got away by telling them we'd be back later to buy something.

We then went for a hike up to a waterfall along a gorgeous ravine. We had a guide, a Maasai guy nameed Ngaka. Of course, we have to leave the "compound" with our guide to do the hike and the girls followed us to the start of the ravine, always reminding us of their names. We had to fjord the river numerous times. We saw some baboons (from a distance) along the way. We went swimming under the waterfall, it was very nice.

After the walk we just lounged around the campground, reading and crap. A fierce electrical storm rolled in, with a crazy wind and clouds, but no rain. We are scheduled to hike the only active volcano in Tanzania tonight (Oldoinyo Lengai), but if it rains, we might have to cancel it.

After a very filling supper (the food is amazing, we have our own cook cooking everything for us), we went to bed early, as we're leaving on our volcano trek at 11:00pm.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

All the Animals We Saw Today

We're still jet lagged, so we didn't sleep that great. Got up around 7:00 and went for breakfast, then headed back up to the room to try and sleep some more before our 10:00am meeeting with Ernest from World Wide Safaris.

After meeting Ernest and getting the last details sorted, he left us with our guide, Danny Boy, the same guy who picked us up at the airport yesterday. He's great, super funny.

We headed to a supermarket to pickup some snacks and such and Tracy got a hat and we hit an ABM. I took out 400,000 shillings.

We headed north, and turned off the main highway at Longido, onto a gravel road towards Lake Natron.

This is where we started seeing our safari animals:
* tons of giraffes
* a number of secretary birds
* zebras
* wildebeest
* gazelle
* Impala
* and, the rarest of East African animals, the camel!

Yes, we saw a camel. Our guide was just as shocked, laughing hysterically that there was a camel here, thousands of miles from a desert. He figures it was owned by a local Masai guy. I didn't have any humps, as it has no need to store water, and it didn't have a traditional camel toe, it's feet more like that of an elephant.

We had a mid-afternoon lunch that was way too  much food.

He took us to a huge volcano crater first, then we made it to our camp, a wonderful little Masai tenting campsite. There were a number of other tourists here as well. We're spending three nights here with a number of activities planned over the next few days.

Monday, November 21, 2016

In Africa

We have made it to Africa with no surprises.

Darren drove us to the airport and we had about an 8 hour flight from Calgary to Amsterdam, a 2 hour layover in Amsterdam, then another 8 hour flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro Airport outside of Arusha. Shortly into our flight from Calgary, one of the flight attendants came up to our seats with two glasses of champagne and asked me if I was Mr. Courtnage. I said yes. She then asked if today was my birthday. I said yes. (In actuality, they were a couple of days early, but whatever). So, we got a glass of champagne a little gift.

Immigration and customs in Arusha was excruciatingly slow. But we made it through and only needed a single-entry visa, which the customs guy said would still be good after we come back from Kenya and Uganda, saviWhen we ng us $50 each!

When we exited the airport, there was a guy from World Wide Safaris holding a sign with our name. Everything going to plan. It was about an hour drive from the airport to the Silver Palms Hotel in Arusha, where we spent the first night.